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Controversial Wyoming Law Prohibits Data Collection on Open Lands

It might take a law degree to separate fact and fiction about the law, but Wyoming has gone to new lengths to limit the access of researchers, including Jane and John Q Public, to data found in open spaces.
May 17, 2015, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Justin Pidot pens a scathing critique of Wyoming's new law, Senate Bill 21. According to Pidot, "[Sb21] makes it a crime to 'collect resource data' from any 'open land,' meaning any land outside of a city or town, whether it’s federal, state, or privately owned."

Immediately concerning to Pidot is the definition of "collect," as established by the law, which goes beyond similar laws passed in Idaho and Utah.

"The statute defines the word collect as any method to 'preserve information in any form,' including taking a 'photograph' so long as the person gathering that information intends to submit it to a federal or state agency. In other words, if you discover an environmental disaster in Wyoming, even one that poses an imminent threat to public health, you’re obliged, according to this law, to keep it to yourself."

Pidot's post argues that the state passed the law to protect agricultural interests from the dissemination of information about the levels of E. coli bacteria found in the state's streams and bodies of water. A post by Amy Feitag on the Southern Fried Science website agrees that the "law was clearly written to damp the efforts of water quality citizen watchdog groups…" Feitag also notes that the law re-hashes a fairly common definition of trespassing, but the "key part of the law that’s new is that the data won’t be admissible in court and the act of turning them over to federal or state agencies will make you an outlaw."

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Published on Monday, May 11, 2015 in Slate
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